If an employee has already maxed-out on their allotted PTO days, do companies typically allow them to take off extra days as unpaid time off?

Here's the background:

I work as a developer in a USA company with a standard accruing PTO policy (you get X amount of days, which includes both sick and vacation in one big lump), in addition to 10 company holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I negotiated for extra PTO days when I first started, b/c I knew I'd need them on a yearly basis for personal reasons. They gave me what's considered a very generous amount for my seniority level. It has worked out well the last 2 years while I've been at the company.

This year, I've been using up my days really fast: I got sick with the flu and a few weeks later I had a relative in the hospital, and so on. However, I need to save up at least 5 days for in another few months (this is the personal reasons I mentioned, which is why I ultimately got extra PTO).

As a result, I don't have any more PTO days available right now, but something unexpected came up in my family and I really want to take off 1-2 days either this week or next week. It's not an emergency but I'd be willing to take it off as unpaid time, despite the loss of money. From informal discussions with my boss, it doesn't sound like unpaid time off is "a thing" here. I've never asked him explicitly, though. Before asking him, though, I'm curious what the general expectations are in this realm.

1. What's standard policy in most US companies? If you're a manager, do you generally allow employees to take unpaid time off, and if yes - what would be the requirements? (ie. does it need to be an emergency? do you need your employees to tell you exactly why they're taking off? )

It's worth noting that my current boss is relatively new, and therefore doesn't know that I've been good about PTO the last 2 years. All he sees is that I have extra PTO and I'm still having trouble keeping within that total. We get along well overall and I know he appreciates my work.

2. If unpaid time off is an acceptable request, how should I phrase the request in a way that doesn't shine me in a negative light to my boss?

Note: I wouldn't want to have to "borrow" from future years. I'd like to be able to take it off as unpaid without worrying about how it's going to impact me in the future.

  • 2
    Why won't you just ask your manager/hr? I VTC as this depends entirely on company contract/policies etc. No one else can really answer this question. Mar 1 '20 at 18:17
  • Concur. Some do some don’t. What “that majority “ do helps you exactly zero. What your company does does, and its a pretty quick question.
    – mxyzplk
    Mar 2 '20 at 2:01
  • You can certainly ask, but it's going to be super dependant on your specific company. We could give common rationales why some employers do/don't do it, but that wouldn't help you as only your company will know where it stands.
    – Magisch
    Mar 2 '20 at 10:01
  • Is it possible in your job to pay for the time off with overtime? Even if that doesn't exist as an official policy it might be possible to negotiate working the hours of the 2 days as overtime (preferably before taking the time off) provided your job is suitable for this kind of thing.
    – quarague
    Mar 2 '20 at 12:00

Yes, you can and should ask for additional days off if you want them.

Unpaid time off is common in most any organization. There are many formal benefits that allow for unpaid time (maybe called "flex time" or "take time" programs, in addition to extended medical or family leave). It's also straightforward for a manager or supervisor to approve extra time off for team members.

There's nothing wrong with asking your manager directly. You don't need to provide a reason or excuse for wanting the days, but you should have a clear plan for how to ensure your responsibilities will still be accomplished regardless of the vacation time.

As an aside, it might be prudent to discuss your situation with someone familiar with your company's policies other than you manager. Depending on your location, sick time may be treated differently than vacation time (many localities require unlimited medical leave for a valid illness that doesn't impact other benefits).


Some employers let your PTO balance go temporarily negative. They have rules about how much negative you can go, and when the balance has to be back above zero. I have seen companies limit you to -40 hours. I have seen others say that you have to be back above zero by the end of the calendar or fiscal year. If you quit before getting back to zero, then they will take the balance owed from your final check.

Some companies allow you to makeup hours the week before or the week after. It helps if it is still in the same pay period. This is some times referred to casual comp time. It can get more complex if working more than 8 hours in a day automatically triggers overtime pay.

Some companies even have programs where people who are about to lose excess hours can donate them to a fund that can be used by other employees. These types of programs require the person receiving the hours to apply for them, get approved. Some require the the person receiving the hours be identified so donations can be directed to a particular beneficiary.

When companies allow LWOP (leave without pay), they have rules to make sure that required items such as health insurance, life insurance and 401k loans are still covered, that might require you to work some hours during the pay period.

Another option is doing remote work. Sometimes there are opportunities to do some work while on emergency leave. It depends on the reason, and the nature of the work.

Ask your manager about your options. Make sure they realize that you have a need, and you want to be flexible regarding timing, duration, and how to address the near term shortfall. If they are new and unsure about the rules, make sure you have fully investigated by reading the employee manuals, and anything else from HR. You might even have to ask HR.


What's standard policy in most US companies?

I don't know of any standard policy.

I do know that every company I have ever worked for would let you "borrow" time off against future accruals. If you needed an extra few days this year, you would be allowed to take it off (with your manager's approval) and then have fewer paid days off the following year.

If you're a manager, do you generally allow employees to take unpaid time off, and if yes - what would be the requirements? (ie. does it need to be an emergency? do you need your employees to tell you exactly why they're taking off? )

I have always granted time off whenever requested.

I always felt better about it when the employee was specific about the reasons for asking.

Depending on the nature of your unexpected thing that came up in your family, FMLA may apply. Read about it or talk with HR to see if it applies.

  • I wouldn't want to have to "borrow" from future years. I'd like to be able to take it off as unpaid without worrying about how it's going to impact me in the future. Is that a reasonable thing to ask my manager?
    – giraffe36
    Mar 1 '20 at 18:04

Your situation is usually called a "family emergency."

Your first and best choice is to tell your supervisor you have a family emergency and ask for the extra time off. You don't have to explain every detail of the emergency unless you want to. Offer to either make up the time by working some extra hours, or by taking it as unpaid leave. Of course, point out that you have been diligent about time off in the past.

You cannot control your supervisor's opinion of you, but you can be sure they understand your situation. Just ask politely. Everybody has family.

In the US there is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that applies to employees of larger companies. It allows unpaid time off for certain situations. But invoking it to ask for a couple of extra days is like using a cannon to swat a fly.

  • It's not an emergency and I wouldn't lie about that. I'd like to know if unpaid leave is an acceptable thing to ask for, but y our response doesn't answer the question.
    – giraffe36
    Mar 1 '20 at 18:03

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